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Sunday May 18, 2008

Not your regular fair

Not when you have an anti-book banning forum, performance poetry, books being given away – and a girl in bubble wrap wandering around.

IN the wake of the recently concluded KL International Book Fair came the KL Alternative Book Festival (KLAB Fest), held at The Annexe, Central Market, earlier this month.

It might not have been as huge as the former, but it is the KLAB Fest that will make its mark in local publishing annals because it was fun, cool, intimate, and, best of all, truly alternative.

Signs of the times: The KL Alternative Book Festival was full of engaging, thought-provoking signs encouraging a love of books. – Photos by LEON WING

Participant Sufian Abas, author of the intriguing short story collection, Kasut Biru Rubina: Koleksi Fiksyen Pop Untuk Jiwa² Hadhari Vol 1, felt, “This fest is more lively and more intimate than the (international) book fair held in KLCC. You get to meet lots of people here.”

But what was “alternative” about it? Well, unlike the international fair, the emphasis at the KLAB Fest was on local publications. And, it seemed, on giving stuff away. For free.

Bernice Chauly, author of poetry collection The Book of Sins, said, “There is enough local work published to warrant such an event now.”

Suara-Suara’s Raja Ahmad couldn’t agree more. “This fest attracts a different crowd from other book fests, mainly younger people and people more into the arts and culture, people who truly love books.”

Chuah Guat Eng of Hologram Books, whose short story collection, The Old House is creating a buzz in publishing circles, said, “We should have more of these events, especially for independent publishers.”

The signs one saw at this fest were also distinctly different: student Priya pointed out one that said, “Reading is sexy”. That was put up to encourage the public to buy from a stall trying to raise funds for students hoping to finance their cultural exchange trip to Britain. The books they were selling had been donated by Silverfish Bookstore owner Raman Krishnan, who regularly publishes the Silverfish collections of new writings.

You wanted free books? You just had to turn right from Priya’s stall and head towards the Book Giveaway stall. By the end of the two-day event, the stall had given out almost 300 books.

Across from the Giveaway stall, another stall was also giving away books, but with a difference. Fest attendees had to first surf to bookcrossing.com and enter a Bookcrossing ID. “Synical” (a bookcrossing ID) explained, “Just enter a quick note to say who’s having the book. Then just pass it on to another person to pick up and do the same.”

Plastic girl: Mooza Mohd drew attention to the Food Not Bombs charity cause in a unique way.

Sarahunhoda, from Komiktanchiah, was also giving stuff away, his magazines. Next to him, someone was actually selling something: the distributors of Sol-jah.

Across from Bookcrossers, Tokobuku’s Faisal was exhibiting his work as a step towards expanding his fotopages.com into a retail business. Underlining the fest’s alternative (almost anti-establishment) feel, some of the books he displayed had no ISBN number.

He explained: “For some writers, it’s a hassle to obtain the ISBN from the National Library, as they would have to reveal their identity – and that can be a risk for some of them.”

Then Faisal, with Bersih (the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections), helped launch Selak, a book featuring pictures of the Nov 10, 2007, rally. For a bit of light relief, Bubu the clown also helped....

Later, in the same hall, Astora Jabat, deputy editor of Al-Islam and columnist for Utusan Malaysia; V. Gayathry from the Centre for Independent Journalism; and Norhayati Kaprawi from Sisters In Islam talked about book banning – with the very participatory audience holding banned books.

Most participants are happy with the response to their stalls. Asia Pacific Distribution’s Jack Binwani observed, “There are lots of intellectual people here, both adults and teenagers alike, who enjoy books.”

Before the end of the first day, one Mooza Mohd hopped around wrapped from neck to toe in plastic bubble wrap.

It was her eye-catching way to draw attention to a good cause, Food Not Bombs.

Don’t we all love bursting those bubbles? For a RM1 donation, you could do just that, as well as make a wish, writing it onto sticky tape that went over the wrap.

On the second day of the KLAB fest, arts website Kakiseni launched its Kakiscript competition and gave out free copies of last year’s winners’ works.

Another interesting launch was that of Nathaniel Tan’s book, Religion Under Siege?

Names, with a capital “N”, that turned up: Confessions of an Old Boy: The Dato’ Hamid Adventures author Kam Raslan was at the Book Giveaway stall signing his books; and none other than National Literature Laureate Datuk A. Samad Said, aka Pak Samad, dropped in and was very happy to have found two locally published books written in the 1950s.

In the afternoon, when it was hot outside, it was cool inside The Annexe in more ways than one. Poetry Underground’s George Wielgus delivered performance poetry with rhythm and gusto. Mooza, along with a few other poets, orated with aplomb.

Indie filmmaker and author Amir Muhammad, one of the festival’s organisers, said he was really looking forward to holding next year’s KLAB Fest, with the same favourable outcome. Or, perhaps, even more alternative?

Leon Wing loves books and occasionally reviews some for StarMag.

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